In first grade I had a friend named Sarah. We would play on the playground during recess, chasing one another and I would push her on the swing. I went to her house to play, I think on more than one occasion, and attended her teddy bear tea birthday party. There isn't much else I remember about her; I just know we had fun together.
My relationship with Sarah was my first exposure to someone with Down syndrome. She was my six year old friend who played, went to school, and shared a life similar to mine. Sure, she looked a little bit different, but that didn't matter; I just needed a playmate and I had one in her.
When Mason was born and we found out he had Down syndrome, it quickly became obvious that I had no clue the implications this had on one's entire life. The low muscle tone--often requiring multiple types and years of therapy--, susceptibility to certain diseases, delay in development, shorter life-span.....all of these things were new to us and it took awhile to digest.
At six months of age, Mason began physical therapy, and at that point we felt this was most important for him so that he could learn to roll over, sit up and crawl. We added speech therapy at 15 months, feeling he was ready to push forward in other areas of development.
Now that he's reached several milestones, we've decided to add Occupational Therapy to his weekly schedule. Along with speech, this is his most significant area of delay right now.
Occupational therapy is something I never really understood. In short, I guess you could say it's therapy to help people function properly in their jobs. What is the job of a toddler? One therapist said it this way: to play, eat, get dressed, and go to the bathroom.
Mason won't begin these therapy sessions until the beginning of October, but we've started working on a few things now that we know need to be developed.
Eating. I'll be honest here. I've put this off because I didn't want to deal with the mess. Now, I wish I had started it in GA where our kitchen table was on top of a vinyl floor. We have carpet in this house, and I can guarantee that they will need to replace it when we move out. Getting his spoon (or fork) into his mouth comes easily, but we're working on actually scooping or stabbing his food. He would much prefer to stab the table or throw his utensils across the table. Meal time typically consists of him trying to get food on his utensil, then he pushes his bowl/plate to me, I get the food on for him, push it back, and he gets it into his mouth. And then he claps and smiles. And I try not to think about the bits of food that are getting smeared into my beautifully refinished tabletop.
The mess is only bigger because Jennavieve is at the same developmental stage. They cheer for each other when food ends up in their mouths, and laugh when it gets spilled on the floor. If one of them has a fork, the other one needs one too. Even though it's getting messy, I have to remind myself that the mess is really not that big of a deal; the important thing is that these two are learning and growing and they are doing it together.
Appropriate Play. Physical therapy focuses more on the gross motor skills (walking, climbing, jumping, running) and Occupational therapy helps with fine motor skills. Manipulating toys, putting puzzles together, coloring, pretending to feed a baby doll--these are all the sorts of things that I try to have Mason do during the day. He doesn't know that it's intentional, but I try to provide a variety of toys that will require him to work on coordination and grasping small objects. As much a I dislike having pots and pans on my kitchen floor, I'm glad that he pretends to stir things in my bowls. This shows that he's understanding how to use objects appropriately.
Dressing. While Mason is still a little young to be doing this, I'm trying to take a little bit of extra time when I dress and undress him to show him how to pull up his pants, or stick his arms in the armholes. The other day I gave him his pants just to see what he would do. He knew they were supposed to go on his legs, but when he couldn't do it, they ended up on top of his head and we played peek-a-boo. I'm learning to just smile and enjoy his playful spirit rather than become frustrated with his inabilities.
Sleeping in a bed. This came somewhat out of necessity right now. Jennavieve does not like sleeping in a pack and play. When we moved to Florida we just brought one crib, so for a couple of months we had them taking turns in the crib and pack and play. Mason is getting too big for a portable crib, so we finally put a mattress on the floor and he's been doing great. Some days I have to lie down with him during nap time so he'll stay in his bed and go to sleep, but for the most part he just crawls in and goes right to sleep. It's really nice when he wakes up in the middle of the night and instead of sitting in the rocking chair to soothe him, I can just slip into his bed and snuggle with him until he calms down. Extra bonus: he looks super cute and like such a big boy laying on a pillow and under the covers!
Going to the bathroom....let's just say I'm going to let the therapist give me LOTS of advice on this one! I've been encouraged, though, because Mason seems to know when he has a dirty diaper. I see that as a really good sign, and we'll just cross that bridge when we come to it.
I've learned in all of these things that I can only take one day at a time. If I look too far ahead, I grow fearful and anxious. And then I lose sight of what Mason can do. He is growing and changing every day, and we are so very privileged to be able to participate with him in each step. Bradley said it well to me one night: "We are so spoiled to have Mason for a son."
Yes. Spoiled, blessed, loved, changed. God is merciful and compassionate, and ever-so-good!